Shifting Culture to Cultivate Innovation

Don’t Blame the Teacher
Innovation in an organization requires an environment that cultivates growth. If a plant fails to thrive, we do not blame the plant.
Rather, we adjust the conditions where it has been planted. Similarly, we cannot expect teachers to innovate if we do not foster a culture that supports them. Teachers who are not valued and encouraged to take risks will stop iterating. Their lessons and classroom environment will remain stagnant. In instances such as this, it is not fair to blame these teachers. Leaders must create a culture where teachers feel that it is safe to try new things, without expecting perfection to accompany the changes.
How do we affect change in our culture? We begin by becoming a student of the culture itself. We must know the culture in order to improve it. I worked with a cohort of educators from our region that are looking to integrate computer science into mathematics and science. In listening to these educators’ conversations, it became clear to me that we needed to examine the cultures of their districts and/or school sites before discussing next steps. We must consider the context of our systems in order to know how to best innovate within them.
Growth for the Future
We can begin to shift cultures by first considering our current state. As we analyze ways in which our cultures both hinder and help the innovation we wish to introduce, we are better able to prepare our system to support this change. Google for Education’s Project Culture Shift contains protocols to guide educators through this work. I used one of these protocols with the aforementioned cohort of educators.

Educators used post-it notes to record evidence of their current state. This was done individually. The educators then placed the post-its on or around the trunk of a tree drawn on chart paper, where they were able to view their colleagues’ responses. This collaborative portion of the activity sparked conversations regarding ideas of what is possible in organizations. It also brought light to common challenges we can all work to overcome. After analyzing the current reality of our cultures, educators recorded ideas for the future reality they are working toward.
I have used this strategy in a few contexts. Each time, educators have commented that it allows them to both reflect and learn from the viewpoints of others. Our individual perceptions of our organization’s culture may be quite different than that of an educator in a different department or at a school site across town. It is only through taking the time to reflect and learn from the perspectives of others that we can move forward in a thoughtful manner that meets the needs of our context.
Are you frustrated that your stakeholders are not innovative? Are you frustrated that innovative ideas are not implemented? Take the time to examine your culture. Do your stakeholders feel psychologically safe to try something new? Are there evaluative components within your system that do not align to the innovation? Do educators feel isolated? Is there a divide between administration and teachers? Don’t blame the plant. Examine the environment. Create a culture that cultivates innovation.
Want to hear more stories of educators working to shift culture? View the video below to see the archived Google for Education Project Culture Shift Showcase.
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